Thursday, February 24, 2005

You can't do everything, and so everything can't be done right...

So due to graduate school, I didn't do FIRST this year. It just would have taken too much time, and four years of FIRST really was enough. I thought I recruited some good talent onto the team and left them with enough tidbits of info to help them get start out better than I did. At least, that's what I thought.

You see, FIRST is a national robotics competition that aims to introduce high schoolers to more advanced science and technology by exposing them to real engineers doing real engineering problems (like building large robots to compete in complicated competitions).

Last year Tom and I were in our fifth year of undergrad and both doing some in-depth study of controls engineering, so we decided to extend some of this into FIRST. We did some pretty interesting things (for a FIRST team) with drive train and arm control on the robot last year. And on top of that, we taught the high schoolers about things like PID and heuristic tuning of PID constants. This brought us the "Engineering Inspiration" award, the silver medal at the regional competition we went to. This also won us a ticket to nationals. And it made some of the mentors (like Tom and me) feel pretty proud.

So that was the last year we both did work with FIRST. This year the remaining FIRST memebers were trying to duplicate some of the robust control that we did. In retrospect, I don't think we did a whole lot, but apparently it was more difficult than I remember.

They just don't get it. No matter how much you show them, they all keep reverting back to the naive solutions that, to them, look novel, but to anyone with half a brain, look idiotic.

And there are little things too -- like they couldn't figure out how to turn the relays (just DPCO 4-way switches between the battery and the thing being driven) into simple SPST switches for the compressor (so they don't accidently reverse the polarity on the compressor). This is just simple stuff. Anyone who actually knows what "ground" ACTUALLY means should be able to do this.

In fact, that should have been the test. When they came to me for help (via e-mail advice), I should have said that before I give them help, they have to prove to me that they at least know how to turn a DPCO 4-way into an SPST for driving a polarized compressor. If they failed to do that, I'd say that my help would be useless to them.

It's hard for me to accept that even though I know what's best, there are going to be plenty of people who simply don't know enough to actually be able to do what's best. I guess that's what it's like to be an engineer. A world full of people who appear to be idiots but simply are just stupid.

No comments: